Dark clouds filled the skies, giving the atmosphere a pressing presence, causing Lorist to think of a Tang poem he memorized in his previous life. 'Dark clouds encroach upon the city, threatening to enclose and overwhelm it'.
Snow clumps the size of goose feathers drifted all around them and the mountains had already been covered with a thick, white blanket.
Even though Lorist wasn't able to see far with the sky being so gloomy and dark, he could hear the grunts and roars of the magical beasts not far away amidst the sounds of the wind blowing as well as the thudding of their steps as they crossed the land.
Not long after, the wave of magical beasts proceeded towards Maplewoods Bastide and headed in the direction of the Felicitas Settlement like a wave that crawled inwards to the shores of a beach.
"Milord, it was our mistake. We neglected to take into account that every winter, the magical beast in the wildlands would cross over from the Magical Dragon Mountains to the dominion to seek food," Belnick and Pajik apologized.
With a glum expression, Lorist waved his hand and said, "It's not your fault. Instead, it's mine for not doing proper research on this and rushing for the developmental plans to advance."
Even though he said that, Lorist was still disappointed. It was only the first winter since the development of the Felicitas Settlement and he had already arranged for 300000 people to settle down and spend the winter there within 83 villages and 7 towns. While the initial fortifications and walls have been constructed, there was still the risk of the magical beasts running wild and attacking the settlements.
Given that the beasts had come from an area with little to no humans, they were rather aggressive. They hadn't seen humans before and didn't understand how terrifying they could truly be. That's why if a human being encroached on what the beasts considered to be their territory, they would attack right away and wouldn't stop until their last breath.
"According to the family records, the magical beast wave from the wildlands will cross the Magical Dragon Mountains to the family dominion and travel all the way from the north past the family bastide, now known as the Maplewoods Bastide, to the southern wastelands to feed. The herbivorous magical beasts would push apart the snow to consume the wild plants and algae beneath it while the carnivorous ones would hunt the herbivorous ones for food, always seeking out the weaker or singled-out ones who wouldn't be able to resist them. Every winter, there would be no less than 1 million magical beasts that cross the family dominion.
"As for why the magical beasts come here, the ancestors of the family believe that it's because the dominion is near the sea according to their research. While we have the Bladedge Mountain shielding us from it, the breeze from the sea carried its smell to blanket the dominion, causing the plants here to have a salty taste, thus attracting the herbivorous magical beasts over here.
"To prove this hypothesis, the ancestors even carried out an experiment by placing some salted algae with some animal feed. It was discovered that the livestock within the dominion first consumed the algae before moving on to the animal feed when the algae was finished. After that, they even captured some herbivorous magical beasts and prepared three types of food for it, namely, dried grass sprinkled with some salt, some algae obtained from the wilds, and the normal animal feed for the livestock of the dominion. The result was that the herbivorous magical beasts preferred the salted dried grass most, followed by algae with animal feed being the least favored.
"That's why the ancestors concluded that the reason the magical beast wave comes to the dominion during winter was to sate their salt consumption requirement. This practice is so common over the years that it is already second nature to the magical beasts. Apart from eliminating the beasts that numbered at least a million, there is no way to prevent them from coming over during winter. This is also one of the reasons why the family wasn't able to reclaim this land for agriculture and settling.
"It's fortunate that these beasts only stay at the wastelands without going anywhere else within the dominion. Some beasts who are left behind after winter are also a good source of furs and leather for the family, which frequently organized hunting festivals that brought in much meat, fur and leather. However, some carnivorous magical beasts also stayed behind as well, and their presence posed quite a risk to the hunting activities of the family.
"The family records also state that when WIldnorth Town was first built, it also suffered quite a bit from the magical beast wave. It was not until most of the land around it was converted into farmland that the magical beasts stop showing up there. However, the first tens of years of the town's formation were the times when the beasts caused the most trouble, even almost driving the family dominion to a famine."
The one who explained the family records was Telesti. This time along, she had accompanied Lorist to Maplewoods Bastide to spend the winter there, with her main goal being to read the records and writings of the Norton Family about their understanding of the land. Even though she was snuggled in a large, leather cloak with only her face revealed, her face was chilled red as she was currently standing on the topmost floor of the castle.
Even though Lorist wanted to cry, he didn't have the tears for it. Everyone had worked so hard for almost a year and managed to complete the preparations by the 11th month to ready enough food and supplies for the people to settle during the winter as well as finish construction on the wooden barricades and houses with some farmland already developed as well. Had it gone on as planned, everyone would've been able to enjoy a long period of vacation and rest before resuming work after the winter.
However, nobody mentioned that the magical beast wave would come during the winter. Either they were too busy they forgot or it just didn't occur to them at all. Only during the night Lorist held a banquet to celebrate the coming of winter after he brought some people with him to the Maplewoods Bastide to spend the winter did he hear one of the retired family soldiers he invited tell him that the magical beast wave will be coming after the second snowfall after witnessing the snow falling from the sky.
It was then when the elders of the family realized that they had missed out on such an important issue with Lorist being no less surprised. In actuality, this was the first time Lorist spent winter within the family dominion. During winter last year, he had left the family dominion to seek out the convoy, so he didn't experience the magical beast wave himself. After interviewing some of the elder people within the dominion and doing some of his own research into the records and writings did he realize that the issue was far more serious than he had initially imagined.
With thick snow covering most of the roads, there was not much anyone could do about the situation. After some brainstorming, Lorist designed a ski-like device to travel on snow and tasked some work smiths to have a few sets made. However, before he himself managed to get accustomed to them, the second round of snowfall had come and the magical beast wave followed suit.
"Mountain-climbing magical antelopes, big-horned wild goats, iron-horned magical rhinoceroses, single-horned magical goats, striped wild horses, green-eyed wild bulls and crimson-back magical wolves..." Lorist mused as he tried to account for the various types of animals that passed by beneath the castle walls. The magical beast studies course he did at Dawn Academy had finally been put to use. Lorist didn't even dream that he would actually get to see the beasts from the pictures within his text books in real life.
"Why are the magical beasts merely passing by the bastide without attacking it?" Els asked curiously.
Without waiting for Belnick to explain, Telesti who was snuggled in Lorist's embrace referenced another one of the writings of the family and explained to Els. "According to the records, during the first tens of years of the construction of the castle by the first Norton ancestor, the magical beasts attacked every winter. However, not only did they not succeed even once, their numbers were also harmed greatly. There was only one instance where a pack of winter wolves managed to enter the bastide taking another route using the slope of the nearby mountains, during which they killed a lot of livestock. After that incident, the family leader spent lots of manpower to reshape the slope into a steep cliff and that incident no longer repeated itself. As time passed, the magical beasts just ignored the presence of the castle and passed through it to their destination."
Belnick could only shrug his shoulders in admiration for Telesti's good memory and understanding of the records of the family.
Lorist hugged Telesti even tighter and rubbed the fur cap she wore with his face lovingly.
"Gosh, what in the world is that?" exclaimed Josk. Being the one with the best vision among the rest, Josk had long detected the approach of another group of beasts from the distance.
Raising his head to look, Lorist shouted out immediately, "Good Sol! Magical mammoths! What the heck is going on?"
The few beasts that neared the castle slowly were roughly 5 to 6 meters in height. The one leading the rest was easily the tallest of the group with its body covered wholly in fur. The beasts all had long and strong trunks with two curved tusks sprouting upwards from their mouths, which contained razor sharp teeth which glinted even in the snow.
While these beasts seemed to travel rather slowly, they were immensely huge and were not much slower than the magical antelopes and goats around them. One immature mammoth of roughly four meters in height even rushed towards the Maplewoods Bastide. Raising its trunk, it trumpeted loudly as if it was letting out a provocation. It was not until an elder mammoth patted its butt with its trunk that it returned to its herd unwillingly.
Lorist slammed onto the crenels of the castle wall with his fist as he imagined the wooden barricades that had been constructed throughout various areas of the Felicitas Settlement being smashed to smithereens by those humongous magical beasts as if they were paper before they rushed into the village. The mere thought of it greatly disturbed Lorist.
Telesti then said, "No sightings of these magical mammoths can be found within the records of the past ten or so years. Further back, they were only documented to show up once in a few years. For some reason, they joined the magical beast wave this time around and every time they appeared, they would cause immense damage within the dominion. The things they hate most are buildings constructed by us humans and the family records state that they have reduced even stone houses in the wilds to nothing but a pile of rubble on the ground. Even the small wooden huts built within forests for anyone to take shelter would be destroyed without exception..."
Magical mammoths were omnivores and were documented as one of the most aggressive magical beasts in the field of magical beast studies. Given the fact that they lived in herds, angering one would be akin to antagonizing an entire group. To add to that, they held grudges and were exceedingly savage. Even the fiercer carnivorous magical beasts didn't dare to meddle with them. The moment one disturbed a magical mammoth, there was no doubt that the mammoth wouldn't stop in its tracks until its aggressor was dead.
Among the various adventure records of the Grindia Continent, a rather notable one recorded the exploits of a famous mercenary crew that had accepted a mission to hunt a few mammoths for their tusks. They ambushed a herd of tens of magical mammoths in the wildlands and successfully completed their mission. However, seven years after that, the mercenary crew once again received a request near the borders of the very same wildlands where they once hunted the mammoths. In the end, their camp was assaulted by near 100 magical mammoths during the night and of the 200 plus mercenaries that parrticipated in that mission, only ten managed to escape alive.
With the occurrence of that incident, the scholars and researchers hypothesized that it was possible that the mercenaries did not adequately clean up traces of their trash within their camp after their mammoth hunting mission, causing the mammoths that rushed over to help to be able to remember the smell. It didn't take long for them to attack once the same smell drifted into the sensitive noses of the same group of mammoths within the same area years later, causing them to gather their fellow brethren to exact revenge for the dead members of their herd, thus resulting in the tragic deaths of all those mercenaries.
"How long will this magical beast wave take to travel across the dominion?" Josk asked.
"The records state that a wave of roughly 1 million magical beasts will take roughly 15 days to pass. That metric can also be used to calculate the time required for waves of different sizes to pass," Telesti said.
"Locke, don't worry. In actuality, the development of the Felicitas Settlement this year still spans less than a quarter of the entire wasteland. And after entering the wasteland, the beast wave will disperse into smaller groups to graze. When they finish the algae in one area, they will move to another and their speed of travel isn't fast either. It's been recorded that they take roughly one month to travel from the north end of the wasteland to the south and they will turn back towards the wildlands when spring comes," Telesti consoled, well aware her lover's troubles.
"Did the records state the rough area of the wastelands where the magical beast wave passed?" Lorist asked with a low voice.
Telesti gave it some thought before she said, "There isn't. Following the tracks of the beast wave during winter to mark it was far too dangerous. However, it shouldn't be too hard to guess where they passed through. The first sector of the wasteland where Morgan Hills is located has never been touched by the magical beasts. As for WIldnorth Town in the seventh sector, after years of agricultural development, there is little to no algae growing there which the herbivorous magical beasts are attracted to. Apart from a few smaller groups of magical beasts that stray apart from the main wave that would make their way to that area, there isn't really anything to worry about. Instead, the riskiest areas are the second to sixth sectors. That's where the majority of the magical beasts will pass.
"Locke, we've already made various preparations to pass the winter. Don't forget that we've stationed one squad of family soldiers at each village, each accompanied by one Silver ranked fighter. They will probably be able to hold on within the short term. You must trust that your own men will be able to protect the villages just fine."
Lorist shook his head and said, "That's not what I'm worried about. It's one thing if the people lose their wills and motivation to develop the area if something terrible happens during the winter. But what do we do about the magical beast wave next year? We must think of a way to curb the yearly waves of beasts properly. This is the first time we've waged a war against the magical beasts for territory! For the sake of the 500000 citizens within the dominion for them to be able to settle down into their new lives, this is a war that we absolutely have to win!"
Lorist then turned to his back and said to the rest of the people who were observing the passing of the magical beast wave, "There will be another few days before the wave passes completely. Within that span of time, I want all the family knights and the Silver ranked fighters to familiarize themselves with using the snow skis. When the beast wave leaves this area, no matter whether the snowfall stops or not, we must head towards the wastelands to ensure the safety of every single village."
Everyone stood up straight and said in unison, "Yes, milord!"